By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
RICHLANDS, Va. —
While Richlands has dominated the series with Carroll County over the years, the Cavaliers have always made it tough on the Blue Tornado.
No wonder Richlands head coach Greg Mance won’t miss Carroll County, which will go off the schedule next season with the VHSL realignment taking effect.
“Last game against Carroll and I am not going to shed any tears, but I will miss competing against Coach (Tom) Hale,” Mance said. “He is a class act, but the distance that we travel, I think we will find different rivalries here close by.”
That includes Bluefield, among others, but the Blues (6-1, 1-0) are concerned about the Cavaliers (1-5, 0-1) right now.
Carroll County has won once this season, a 36-16 win over winless Martinsville. The Cavaliers have allowed at least 40 points in four losses, including a 45-20 setback at Grayson County and last week’s 49-28 defeat against Abingdon.
“They are little Jekell and Hyde, we put the first tape in and watched them play Martinsville and they went up and down the field and beat the pants off Martinsville and Martinsville has always got great athletes and skill people,” Mance said. “We put it in against Gravson County and Grayson County just went up and down the field and did what they wanted to do against them.
“We have kind of seen the best of them and the worst of them, but is Richlands and Carroll and it always seems to be a close game. They always seem to play their best of the year against us.”
Mance is looking for a better performance from his squad, which has won three straight since a loss to Pulaski County, but the Blues were scoreless in the second half of last week’s 24-14 win over Marion.
“I know our kids are disappointed in how they played last week,” Mance said. “We have had a hard week of practice so I think they are looking forward to Friday night to get out there and see if we can execute for 40 minutes instead of playing for 24.”
Defensively, Richlands did limited SWD leading rusher Ethan Richardson to just 23 yards on the ground, but the offense — which received solid play from quarterback Gray Baker (282 yards), tailback Colten Staton (103 yards 2 td) and receivers A.J. Johnson (8-142) and Todd McGlothin (8-71) — struggled with uninspired play after the break, including an uncharacteristic three turnovers.
“I told somebody I was just very disappointed in our performance because we have always prided ourselves at Richlands on how hard we play and we play with emotion and we just didn’t play with any intensity or emotion in the second half offensively,” said Mance, who has been pleased to see a reduction in penalties that hampered the Blues earlier in the season.
“Defensively we did a great job, it is one of the best defensive performances we have had here in a long time, our defense is getting better and better each week so we are very excited about them. Offensively we were just very, very disappointed. We just didn’t play with any emotion or any intensity.”
The offense will be missing Baker, who had an MRI on his right knee on Thursday. Mance said the results were inconclusive and further tests would be taken.
Ben Brown, who was sharing the quarterback duties with Baker to begin the season, will take the snaps despite his own knee and back ailments. Staten, who missed part of the Marion game, is expected to play, as are banged up linemen Anthony Cordle and Corbin King.
“...This time of the year everybody is banged up and it is just something you have got to play through,” Mance said. “We have been rotating guys in practice, a lot of younger guys are getting some reps so we’ll see how they do when we throw them out there on Friday night.”
Mance is looking to get everyone healthy in time for the postseason, but the Blues have other goals first, beginning with the SWD crown, which Richlands hopes to win for a ninth season in a row.
“Our kids want that, usually they don’t say much about the Southwest District or the region, they come in thinking they are going to win the state and go to Lynchburg,” Mance said. “They don’t say a lot about it, but I guess people are talking about this being the last year of the Southwest District and something these kids want is to go out with nine in a row which would be really special.”
Carroll County will try to dent those plans behind the play of quarterback Conner Lundy, who has thrown for more than 1,000 yards this season, including 277 against Grayson County. The Cavaliers returned a kick and interception for scores in the win over Martinsville, while Chris Smoot had receptions in that game for 125 yards.
Josh Blankenship and Jake Dillon are both weapons out of the backfield.
“You can’t let them control the clock, Carroll County comes in every year and they are well coached, Tom Hale does a tremendous job with those kids,” Mance said. “They run the Winged-T and give you so many looks out of the Winged-T...
“They are doing a good job mixing up run and pass, they just control the clock, they want to run the football, they throw the ball so well...They have great receivers, they have two outstanding running backs and the quarterback can throw the football.”
Richlands hasn’t lost a SWD game since 2007, and plan to continue that streak tonight at Ernie Hicks Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
“We take it one game at a time around here, this is game eight for us,” Mance said. “It is one game at a time, we have got to improve each week.
“We felt like last week we took a step backwards in the second half, especially with the offensive line and just very disappointed in how we played. We challenged them all week so I am excited to see how they play Friday.”
—Contact Brian Woodson